August 08, 2008

Academic Bullies

I received a call from a former client this afternoon. This morning, a senior faculty member, who teaches the same subject matter as her, "summoned" her into his office where he proceeded to berate her, call her names and threatened her. He repeatedly screamed that he was tenured and she was still untenured and that she had to answer to him.

Over the phone, she still sounded very shaken and wanted to double check that her reaction and plan of action were on target. She was fighting the urge to simply withdraw from the world and quit her job on the spot. She told me that she never wants to be alone with him again. I was proud of her. Her plans were right on target. This bully had already been warned about his behavior before. She is reporting his behavior to the appropriate people, documenting his bullying, and reaching out to other senior faculty women on her campus for the best ways to deal with him. In essence, she is calling upon her inner warrior princess to shore up her boundaries and is drawing a line in the sand by stating that she refuses to be bullied.

Hazing and bullying have gone on for far too long. Afraid of the bully, colleagues and administrators look the other way as women, especially, are subjected to an extremely hostile environment. Too often, the bully relies on the knowledge that the junior faculty member is too afraid of jeopardizing their chances for tenure and promotion to say anything. But, if you read discussion forums, the end result is that the environment becomes so unbearable that the faculty member ends up leaving for what she hopes are greener and kinder pastures (after all sense of self-confidence in one's abilities have been destroyed).

Bullying has been the elephant in the room. But I am hopeful that people are starting to finally address it. Lately, I have seen a lot of conversations about "faculty incivility" on professional forums for faculty development specialists as well as timid forays into the subject by the Chronicle of Higher Education (Click here for an interesting op-ed about tenure that states that tenure encourages bullying). Let's hope that these conversations develop legs and are the beginning of real change.

I have not had the chance to read Twale and DeLuca's book Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It that was released earlier this year, but my colleagues are all giving it a thumbs up on how to deal with bullying and how to deal with a culture that encourages the chewing up and spitting out of junior faculty.

Let's join my former client in drawing the line in the sand. Let's conjure up our warrior princesses and remind the bullies that we expect to be treated with respect.


No comments: